Where to Shop, Eat and Be Inspired in University Heights and North Park

According to one of our longtime editors

All Photography by David Harrison

 Phyllis Van Doren, a longtime editor here at San Diego Home/Garden Lifestyles, keeps a finger on the pulse of the San Diego design industry, so we thought it only fitting that the maven of style show us some of her favorite places in University Heights and North Park, areas she’s called home for nearly 40 years.

“I don’t shop big-box stores,” she admits. “I never have.” Instead, Phyllis gets her goods and her coffee from the places and people—whom she’s gotten to know—just down the street.

1. Native Poppy
We begin the day shopping for blooms at this well-designed, collaborative flower shop, gift boutique and coffeehouse (Native Poppy shares digs with Communal Coffee). “The stem bar is such a smart concept,” Phyllis says while perusing the selection of seasonal blossoms. Do-it-yourselfers, like Phyllis, can amass a bouquet from the daily offerings; those with less confident green thumbs (like myself) can order custom-made arrangements that have a gorgeous, intentionally unruly feel to them. 2335 University Ave., 619-535-0245, nativepoppy.com

2.Hessian Global Goods
Next, we stop to get some of Phyllis’ favorite coffee. But this shop, a two-story converted home, sells more than beans and cups of joe. The owners, a pair of sisters originally from England, have become purveyors of imported goods. “You never know what you’re going to find,” Phyllis says, thumbing through a rack of colorful linens. Much of the shop’s kitsch is organized by color, and everything’s for sale—even the collection of vintage coffee cans above your head that look like a display. 4034 Park Blvd., 619-239-7891, hessianglobalgoods.com

3. Big Front Door
It’s not quite lunch time, but Phyllis takes me by the contemporary, gourmet deli she frequents, marked by a massive, swiveling entranceway, which also gives this eatery its name. Inside, the modern warehouse-like sandwich shop features menus artfully written on rolls of butcher paper and a stainless-steel kitchen visible through glass panels. My mouth waters as I watch house- cured and smoked meats frolic with cheeses, veggies and house-made sauces between slices of ciabatta, whole grain, sourdough and more. 4135 Park Blvd.,619-255-4100, bfdsandiego.com

4. Park Boulevard and Eden
We continue to work up an appetite with a leisurely walk down Park Boulevard, a street teeming with bars and restaurants. Phyllis points out the great sign outside Pop Pies Co. on the corner of Meade Avenue, the award-winning Madison (which doesn’t open until 4 p.m.), and Soltan Banoo and Muzita Abyssinian Bistro, both of which Phyllis recommends for ethnic cuisine. But it’s the street’s hidden gem that Phyllis is most excited to show me. Eden, the new-ish (it opened last November) plant shop that occupies one half of the retail space in a building partially covered in faux greenery, is long and narrow and stocks interesting pottery, most of it from local artisans, lots of plants, and a few giftables for the home. Phyllis hopes Eden’s opening draws other design-focused boutiques to the area, “and not another restaurant or bar,” she admits. 4636 Park Blvd., 619-431-5095, facebook.com/sandiegoeden

5. Maven
mavenOur journey takes us down Adams Avenue (by car, not on foot) to the corner of 30th Street to this beautifully curated shop of fashion, beauty, housewares and gifts owned by Alexandra Hall (above). “I carry things that you can’t find anywhere else in San Diego and sometimes on the West Coast,” Hall says of her inventory. And it’s just one of the reasons Phyllis loves this shop—that and the fact that she recently purchased her new favorite sweater, a mélange knit with a mock neck that Phyllis describes as the softest pullover ever. There’s also the fabulous Totem candles that come in varying sculptural shapes, heights and colors and the tongue-in-cheek boob bathmat, to name a few more. 2946 Adams Ave., 619-280-2474, mavensd.com

6. Hanna’s Gourmet
For lunch, we head to a place where, literally, everyone knows Phyllis’ name. Typically, she sits down (she likes to find a quiet table on the adjacent patio), and a waiter brings her usual: cilantro noodles with seared salmon. Today, she switches things up and orders the organic kale salad, which has sun-dried tomatoes, lentils and an olive-lemon dressing with seared salmon on top. Phyllis is also a fan of the popular family-style dinners that take place on the third Thursdays of the month (next one is Italian on March 15), revolve around a theme and sell out quickly! But she also recommends coming for brunch and having an omelet or stopping in to pick something from the constantly changing pastry case. Phyllis’ pick? The almond cake with caramel cream and chocolate ganache. “It’s to-die for,” she says. 2864 Adams Ave., 619-280-5600, hannasgourmetcatering.com

hannas gourmet

Other Must-See Destinations

“It’s where I go any time I need a gift,” she says. The thoughtfully-merchandised wonderland of gifts, modern furniture and plants beckons you to spend time to discover the perfect something for him, her or them. 3801 30th St., 619-501-6318, shoppigment.com

Kiko & Sven
This tiny shop is another fabulous spot to find unexpected gifts, clothes, home goods and more. Phyllis often stops in for cards but leaves with something she couldn’t live without. “I’m an impulse buyer,” she reveals. 3723 Adams Ave., 619-677-2192, kikoandsven.com

Hillcrest Farmers Market
Arrive 30 minutes before “doors” open at 9 a.m. on Sunday mornings to be the first in line for Prager Bros. flaky croissants and Parisian brioche. Then peruse Basic Layers’ Turkish linens and Whole Earth Acre’s starter herbs and vegetable plants. 3960 Normal St. (in the DMV parking lot), 619-299-3330, hillcrestfarmersmarket.com


Categories: Lifestyles, Neighborhood Guide